House Speaker Paul Ryan wants to cut taxes. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He wants to eliminate federal reimbursements for health services at Planned Parenthood. He wants to slash domestic discretionary spending. He wants to voucherize Medicare. This is just a modest sampling of the conservative policy agenda of Paul Ryan’s dreams that he is only now getting a realistic opportunity to enact into law. Doing so requires him to maintain good relations with the adult child he needs to trick into signing these bills. It means staying out of the baby’s way during his tantrums and sprees. It means, on days like Saturday, being a coward.
Donald Trump has temporarily shut the door on refugee admissions. He has indefinitely shut the door on Syrian refugee admissions. Lawful permanent residents of the United States and other visa holders coming from certain Muslim-majority countries are being denied entry into the U.S. right now, pending case-by-case evaluations or until the courts toss this junk out. Once refugee admissions resume, the government will “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality.” In other words, Trump has instructed the government to use religion as a means of prioritizing the processing of refugee applications. This, by Trump’s own admission, prioritizes Christians over Muslims coming from countries like Iraq or Yemen or Syria—if any Syrians are ever allowed—or other horrific lands from which someone might seek refuge. It effectively discriminates against Muslims on the basis of their religion. Call it whatever you’d like.
Most Republicans aren’t calling it anything. They’re keeping their mouths shut. Others, like Sen. Ben Sasse, find the order “too broad” even if it’s not “technically a Muslim ban.” The speaker of the House, however, is lauding Trump’s executive order, per his statement Friday night:
“Our number one responsibility is to protect the homeland. We are a compassionate nation, and I support the refugee resettlement program, but it’s time to reevaluate and strengthen the visa vetting process. This is why we passed bipartisan legislation in the wake of the Paris attacks to pause the intake of refugees. President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country.”
The post-Paris legislation Ryan is referring to is the American SAFE Act. This 2015 bill basically required additional layers of signoffs on refugee applicants from Iraq and Syria. It would have ground refugee resettlement to a near halt, and 47 House Democrats did indeed vote for it. Senate Democrats successfully filibustered it, and it died.
One word that did not appear in the American SAFE Act, though, was religion.
Ryan made a big point of this in pitching the bill. “I also want to point out that we will not have a religious test,” he said in 2015. “Only a security test.”
Here is how AshLee Strong, a Ryan spokeswoman, addressed the quite glaring religious component of Trump’s executive order on Saturday. “This is not a religious test,” she told the Washington Post, “and it is not a ban on people of any religion.”
This is exactly the legalese dodge that the authors of Trump’s order are trying to get away with: It doesn’t explicitly ban people by religion, therefore it’s not a religious test, so what’s to worry about? All it does is send people to second-class status because of their religion. This is an order that discriminates against Muslims. How savvy of Ryan’s office to locate the “out” that Trump’s people carved in.
Maybe I was too generous to Ryan in the opening of this piece. When Trump does something like this, we know he does it because he’s a bigot. When Ryan praises it, we assume that he knows better, that he’s just doing it because the political and policy price would be too high if he didn’t. He does not get points for that anymore. He’s just a Trumpkin.